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Travelling the world for real-world experience

Queen's doctoral candidates Neil Fernandes and Kaj Sullivan are traveling the world meeting with leading workers from industry, academia, and government thanks to the Hugh C. Morris Experiential Learning Fellowship.

Queen's doctoral candidates Neil Fernandes and Kaj Sullivan are traveling the world meeting with leading workers from industry, academia, and government thanks to the Hugh C. Morris Experiential Learning Fellowship.
With the support of the Hugh C. Morris Experiential Learning Fellowship, Kaj Sullivan and Neil Fernandes are able to travel to gain real-world expoerience and skills training in their areas of study. (University Communications)

For any student, gaining real world, hands-on experiential learning is invaluable.

Thanks to the Hugh C. Morris Experiential Learning Fellowship from the Kimberley Foundation, Neil Fernandes and Kaj Sullivan, doctoral candidates in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, will be traveling the world meeting with leading workers from industry, academia, and government within their respective fields of study.

This year marked the inauguration of the Hugh C. Morris Fellowship, which is valued up to $40,000, and is intended to fund a year-long experiential learning program. Three fellowships, two for Queen’s, were handed out due to the quality of the proposals and because the Kimberley Foundation wanted to demonstrate the breadth of projects that fall under its mandate.

For Mr. Fernandes that means traveling to the United States, Peru, Brazil, Ireland, Sweden, Namibia, Australia, and around Canada, to learn about some of the world’s most important geological and mineral sites related to ore deposits found in sedimentary rocks.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he explains.

“It’s a great chance to see how the mining industry and mineral resources affect different people around the world and how it is all sort of linked to geology. The rocks play a critical role in it obviously as the rocks are the sources of the minerals, but from the perspective of a career in the natural resources sector, it’s a chance to see a variety of different kinds of mineral deposits in a variety of geographic settings in a variety of cultural settings,” he says. “I never thought that I would find myself underground in a mine in the southern desert of Namibia. For me, it’s a dream come true really.” 

Through his studies, Mr. Fernandes investigates the genesis of a significant zinc mining district in Central Brazil. No matter where he ends up, he realizes the importance of understanding the full scope of the mineral resources process – exploration, extraction, processing and remediation. Another increasingly important element is developing positive relationships between the mining sector and the surrounding communities. 

Through the fellowship he will be able to connect with and experience first-hand a wide range of examples of these working relationships. As such he will be collaborating with 13 mining companies, eight universities and five government geological surveys around the world.

“Right now, the big thing for people coming out of school is that everyone is saying they don’t have enough experience. We have all this learning but we don’t have, quote, unquote, the experience,” he says. “So I think what this does for us specifically is gives us the experience of seeing what is going on in our relevant fields – what resources are being used, what techniques are being applied to find and extract them, how these tools are being developed. It is sure to be a life-changing experience.”

Mr. Sullivan’s plans involve less traveling as he is focusing on collaborating with labs in Japan, England and here in Canada. Specializing in isotope geochemistry, he is exploring if copper, zinc, and iron can be used as biomarkers for Alzheimer’s, as is done with some forms of cancer.

“One of the great things about the Experiential Learning Fellowship is the flexibility that we’re provided with. Due to the differing nature of each recipient’s research, we have designed drastically different learning programs that will best suit our needs. While Neil’s journey will take him to many different locations, mine will involve extended visits at three laboratories,“ he says. “I viewed the fellowship as an excellent opportunity to reach out to the researchers who have inspired my work and spend time at their facilities learning from them.” 

The fellowship also offers recipients the chance to learn new skills and information that will not only help them in their doctoral work but in their later careers as well.

As part of his fellowship, Mr. Sullivan will be spending six months with the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa, working with researchers to develop analytical abilities at their lab. 

“Overall, these visits are about becoming a better, more well-rounded researcher,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to getting exposed to different research environments and developing skills and relationships that will help shape my future career. The opportunity to work with researchers at home and abroad will be invaluable. It is truly a global research community and the more connections made, the more opportunities to participate in new and exciting research emerge. This was demonstrated to me by my original supervisor, the late Dr. Kurt Kyser, who collaborated on numerous multidisciplinary projects with researchers from different parts of the globe.” 

The knowledge sharing through the fellowships isn’t in just one direction. Both Mr. Fernandes and Mr. Sullivan will also be sharing their research and experiences gained at Queen’s as they make new connections.

The Hugh C. Morris Experiential Learning Fellowship was created to support graduate students at Canadian universities to undertake a program of self-guided travel and experiential learning for studies related to earth, geology, environment, water, alternative energy, climate change, sustainability, or the social impact, social sciences or design sciences concerned with earth, sustainability or environmental issues.